March 28, 1984 would be the last day for over 11 years that Baltimore would be represented in the National Football League. It would be the last day of ther Baltimore Colts. For that night, Mayflower moving vans with Indiana license plates would arrive under the cover of snow and darkness and take the team's belongings, history, and presence from its complex in Owings Mills, and move it to Indianapolis and the promise of the brand spanking new RCA Dome. Which has since been demolished.
Here's a story Baltimore's Channel 2 ran on this a few years ago. There are a lot of Baltimore sports and political icons in this story.
I recall the morning of March 29, 1984 very vividly. My grandmother woke me up for school to tell me "that goddamnsonofabitch Irsay is moving that team. And the Mayor is crying. Bless his heart." Almost 40 years after moving to Howard County, my family still considered themselves Baltimoreans and so William Donald Schaefer was the political leader we cared most about. Hugh Nichols? Who cares?
By 1984 the Colts were not a good team. Baltimore's rabid football fan base was stilled. In part because of the team's ineptitude, in part because of owner Bob Irsay's annual shopping sprees over the final few years of the Colts' tenure to move the team. We became jaded of all the threats. He won't move the team, like Al Davis had moved the Oakland Raiders a few years before. That was Al Davis. He's crazy. Irsay is just a drunk. He won't move the team. He won't.
And on that snowy March night the city that had become accustomed to Ameche's and McCafferty's and Gino's and the Golden Arm and Colt Bowling Lanes, and The Big Wheel and Loudy and games that started at 2pm on Sundays, and that had become so accustomed to it's football team being part of its fiber, its identity-- that city learned that it could be removed. And what a painful, civic soul-crushing extraction it was.
And like a lot of us do after losing a long-time love, we searched for awhile for our identity. Baltimore tried to find a replacement. For purposes of economic power and social prestige, to be considered a "major league city", for sure, but also, to reimplant football into the civic soul. We tried alternatives, but the USFL Stars played in College Park and the CFL Stallions-- well, they captured the spirit and imagination quite well, but it wasn't the same. We tried to go the NFL expansion route. Start fresh. Look at the uniforms of the would have been Baltimore Bombers! Alas, the expansion teams became the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars. The former franchise a great idea, the latter one, still a horrible one. No worries, they will be in London or LA soon.
So ultimately what we had to do was play the game that was played on us-- coerce another team's owner to take a sweetheart deal and come to Charm City. There were the Cardinals. And the Bengals. And the Jets. Even, briefly, the Raiders and the Redskins. And with every rejection Baltimore and Maryland sweeted the pot. And eventually, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, suffering the same circumstances of lacksadaisical fan base, indifferent civic leadership, and financial distress, took the deal. And the Ravens were born.
And let's not forget the first years of the Ravens' relationship with Baltimore weren't the best. Why did we steal another city's team after another city stole ours? What are we doing taking this lineman Ogden with our first pick? And who's this Lewis kid from Miami? Purple and black? Vinny sucks. Five years and a Super Bowl victory later, the love affair was on.
But one loves never quite like the first time and even though some of my all-time most hated football players have played for the Colts-- those being Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Dwight Freeney, and the most overrated offensive lineman of all time, Jeff Saturday-- even though those first several seasons I wanted the damn dome to collapse with the team, the fans and the Irsays still in it, I started to see that the Colts had meaning to the Indianapolis community and I thought, "Good on ya!" I started to not begrudge them their team.
Still, the Ravens were one Lee Evans drop from a trip to Super Bowl 46 in Indianapolis, and I do think they would've beaten the New York Giants. Hoisting the Lombardi on the 50 yard line of Lucas Oil Stadium would've been sweet. But one year later in the Superdome was plenty fine too.
So I am bereft of anger and sadness for the royal blue and white. I have moved on. We have the Ravens and Orioles Opening Day is a few days away. Let Indianapolis have their team. In fact, this season the Colts ought to be pretty good.
But it wasn't lost on me that in Ray Lewis's final home game, the Ravens whacked the Colts in M&T Bank stadium. There still exists a certain sweetness in beating that team, one that makes me think that a victory over them should somehow be worth one and a half wins.
Happy Something on a Stick Day! My choice is toast!
Let's be careful out there.